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EPA Role in Glyphosate Cancer Decisions Questioned By U.S. Lawmaker

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A U.S. lawmaker is questioning the role federal regulators may have played in an international organization’s decision that the side effects of Roundup, Monsanto’s popular glyphosate-based weedkiller, could cause cancer. 

On June 7, Lamar Smith, Chairman of the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee, wrote a letter (PDF) to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, asking what employees contributed to last year’s decision by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that determined the herbicide glyphosate is a probable carcinogen. He also asked how the EPA’s own investigation could contradict that decision by saying it was not a carcinogen.

The questions stem from a report that was accidentally posted to the EPA’s website in April, by its Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC). Although the EPA said that the report was posted by accident and not finalized, the copy that was released temporarily was marked final. The report was due last Summer.

“Given the apparent contradictions of the CARC and IARC findings for glyphosate and the participation of EPA officials in IARC’s report, the Committee has concerns about the integrity of the IARC process, the role played by agency officials in the IARC study, and the influence that EPA officials involved in the IARC process have on the agency’s analysis of glyphosate,” the letter states.

The letter calls for interviews next month with several EPA officials, including Matthew T. Martin and Peter P Egeghy of the Office of Research and Development, and Jesudosh Rowland and Charles Smith, deputy directors of the Office of Pesticide Program’s Health Effects Division. the letter also seeks a number of documents linked to the glyphosate reviews.

The problems stem from mounting questions over the potential health risks associated with the widely used weedkiller and whether there may be a link between exposure to Roundup and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or other cancers, following the World Health Organizations IARC decision to classify glyphosate contained in Roundup as a cancer-causing agent, which has sparked debate worldwide.

Monsanto has aggressively criticized the decision, dismissing the IARC findings as agenda driven and based on “junk science.”

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has also conflicted with the IARC findings, declaring glyphosate to be safe. Scientists and supporters on both sides of the debate have called the processes of the other unscientific, and the European Commission has delayed the renewal of glyphosate’s license across Europe and glyphosate products may be recalled in Europe if its license is not renewed by June 30.

Roundup Lawsuits in the U.S.

Amid the continuing debate within the regulatory community, Monsanto now faces a growing number of Roundup cancer lawsuits in the United States, typically involving individuals diagnosed with a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma following heavy exposure to the herbicide as a farm or agricultural worker.

The complaints allege that the manufacturer recklessly promoted Roundup and pushed greater and greater use of the chemical, without disclosing the potential health risks.

A recent U.S. Geological Survey on glyphosate usage nationwide found that an estimated 2.6 billion pounds of the herbicide has been sprayed on America’s agricultural land over the two decades since the mid-1990s, when Monsanto introduced “Roundup Ready” crops that are designed to survive being sprayed with glyphosate, killing the weeds but not the crops.

In all that time, the FDA has never tested for residue or buildup in the food sold to Americans nationwide. In a report published in 2014, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) criticized the FDA for this deficiency in its pesticide program.

The lawsuits over Roundup allege that plaintiffs may have avoided a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or other cancers if they had been warned about the Roundup risks for farmers, landscapers and others in the agricultural industry, as safety precautions could have been taken or other products could have been used to control the growth of weeds.

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